Not in China anymore
Coming out of Nanning train station was like seeing children rush out of their classrooms on the last day of school. All I saw was a sea of black heads, streaming down the steps in front of me, running and bumping into everything in their way.
I didn’t know anything about Nanning. I had only come here to take my train to Hanoi.
“Change money? Vietnam SIM card?” a young lady called out when I reached the entrance. It was a little after 5 o’clock in the afternoon and very warm. There were vendors with pushcarts, people waiting for their families and teenagers hanging around, busily texting on their phones.
“Taxi, miss?” a man in a dusty pair of trousers said.
I stared. The two of them, in fact everyone around me, didn’t look at all like the people I had left behind in Shanghai the day before. Here, they were tanned, had wavy hair and looked a lot like me. I had stood out from the locals since this trip began but for the first time, in a city 160kms from the Vietnamese border, it looked as though I would blend in nicely if not for my rucksack and clothes.
A lady tuk-tuk driver agreed to take me to my hostel for 10Y. I climbed in and she turned around to check that I was ready. “Okay? Yes?” she asked.
And we were off. She swerved her vehicle, weaving in and out of rush hour traffic as they all do, cutting in front of pedestrians who hesitated too long by the roadside.
Nanning’s disordered streets were nothing like I’d ever seen in China. Cars, motorbikes and tuk-tuks (mine included) ignored traffic rules and criss-crossed in front of each other, all of them honking loudly at the same time.
This isn’t China anymore. This is not China.
I could’ve been in any chaotic Southeast Asian city. It was as if Southeast Asia had spilled over into Nanning and taken over. Not only did the locals look like they could be from Bali, Cambodia or Vietnam, if not for the Chinese signboards, the streets of Nanning reminded me of Hanoi’s Old Quarter.
It was about six in the evening by the time I reached my hostel, thankfully in one piece. I checked in, had a shower, dumped my rucksack and went down to hunt for dinner.
I walked until I reached a large, brightly-lit shopping mall. I avoided the McDonald’s on the first floor. I hadn’t eaten at a fast-food joint since St Petersburg and I wasn’t about to start now.
The Thai restaurant on the second floor looked promising, its banners covered with enticing photos of tom yum goong, pad thai and pineapple fried rice. A Vietnamese restaurant which had photos of Halong Bay on its walls looked equally interesting.
But this was my last night in China, and there would be lots of time for tom yum and spring rolls. Same time tomorrow night, I would be on my way to the Vietnamese border. I’d already had a taste of Southeast Asia on the streets of Nanning; I wanted to have whatever that was left of China in the city.
So at the next decent-looking Chinese restaurant I found, I ordered rice, an omelette with stir-fried vegetables, and waited.
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